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Collector Spotlight: René Schuler

René Romero Schuler began collecting when she was young and single, working for herself. Born in Chicago, she moved to Quito, Ecuador to be with her father’s side of the family at a young age. She returned several years later, finished school and began her career in interiors, eventually launching her own mural and faux-finishing business. Becoming a gallery owner started by circumstance – as her business picked up, she rented a showroom at North and Western to showcase her samples. Friends and fellow artists pointed out the abundance of wall space, so hanging art was a natural fit. As time passed, artists started applying to exhibit, the client list grew, and they started to get a following. Romero Gallery was created.

Through her work and the gallery, she met a handsome man named Rick and closed the gallery in 1988 when they made plans to move to New York City. When they returned, they settled in Lake Forest, started a family, and Rene still paints like crazy in her adorable studio.

These days she is host to a series of salon dinners for friends and acquaintances. Her house has the perfect layout for these kinds of fetes – and ideal for hanging artwork. The Schuler home contains a mix of René’s art, and the art of others. The house has terrific East-West exposure and a thirteen-foot vaulted ceiling in the central room. Among the oversized canvases on display in the expansive main room are the works of Henry Strasne, Chong Kim and Ma Jaya Sati Baghavati (aka Ma). A pair of faces graphic, eye-catching paintings hang on a side wall. René recalls the story of her first acquisition: “Those are a pair of Tom Billings. I was working on finishing a new club and found those face down. You can see that there is still gum stuck to one.” She picked the pair up, brushed them off and had these hanging in her gallery when a client, some years later, offered her $10,000. “I’m definitely holding on to those.”

I notice a huge ovoid copper sculpture lurking on a pedestal on one side of the house. The piece, weighing in at 300 pounds, was created out of the vats from the old family-owned, and now defunct, Schuler Candy Factory. René recounts the history of piece and tells that a local artist had approached her husband’s family about the use of the discarded materials in the factory. She offered to haul off the massive copper pots for use in her work. In exchange for the raw material, she offered them a sculpture from the series in gratitude. The collection is a wonderful mix of 2D and 3D works, and both house and lawn are dotted with metal and wire sculptures by the artists Angela Peterson and Mark Winter.

When I ask René about her own work, she offers to take me to her studio. Tucked away behind a crop of trees in their backyard, It’s a cozy, modest wood cabin with skylights and windows allowing for natural light. Looking at her work, it occurs to me that within the category of René’s own work, there are two distinct types, her expressive paintings (pictured, left) and work that serves as a reminder that she was likely one of the best professional interior muralists around. In the billiard area, she drafted a copy of Van Gogh’s “The Night Cafe” as well as created a mural for each of her son’s bedrooms. Considering her talent for rendering (something that’s always come naturally to her), she sets aside this skill set when creating the paintings she’s passionate about – primal, loose, and expressive paintings. This translates to the three, seven-foot painting in her home being seen more as decor, and not a part of her personal canon of her art.

It is interesting to examine how the wild, colorful work in the Schuler collection takes all the stuffiness and pretentiousness out of a house with a living room that big. Take for instance, the works in her main room. That artwork, along with the animal-print fabric, sets a tone in the home that makes a visitor feel like they don’t need to remove their shoes. The collection also has the privilege of utilizing, as one art dealer put it, those “big Midwestern walls in big Midwestern homes”.

Rene’s formative years were anything but ordinary and the color and verve in her collection is reflective of her dynamic upbringing. As an interior design professional, she made a career from taking what she was given in terms of space and updating these places with her artistic touch. In a sense, she takes a place and with her artistic eye, changes the surroundings into something entirely new. This talent is expressed in her work and permates in the works in her collection, as well.